Tracking Your Past

Doris Green

In the spirit of Voice’s spring poetry emphasis, I searched for poems about genealogy and was surprised by their diversity. A few poems relate to loss and grief, like these lines from an unknown author: “A limb has fallen from the family tree / I hear a voice that whispers, ‘Grieve not for me.’” One, “Family Tree Poem,” also by an unknown writer, finds humor in the obsessive genealogy search, as these excerpts show:

There’s been a change in Grandma, we’ve noticed her of late
She’s always reading history or jotting down some date
She’s tracking back the family, we’ll all have pedigrees
Oh, Grandma’s got a hobby — she’s climbing the FAMILY TREE….
She has no time to babysit, the curtains are a fright,
No buttons left on Grandpa’s shirt, the flower bed’s a sight.
She’s given up her club work and the soap house on TV,
The only thing she does nowadays is climb the FAMILY TREE.
The mail is all for Grandma, it comes from near and far,
Last week she got the proof she needs to join the DAR.
A Monumental project, I’m sure we all agree
All because of Grandma climbing the FAMILY TREE.

On a more serious note, consider “The Landscape” by Fred M. Fariss: I look over the landscape of genealogy / To discover the footprints / Of those who went before me — / My ancestors … / When I meet with them / At the threshold of history / The discovery is so exciting / To reconnect … / It is a family reunion / On the plains of imagination.

Much “memoir poetry” conveys family history. Consider the first-place award winner of the 2021 poetry contest sponsored by the Wisconsin People & Ideas magazine (published by the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters). “The Father” by Jennifer Fandel of Madison begins, “Your dead father dogs you / like the white mutt that roams” (https://www.wisconsinacademy.org/magazine/fall-2021/poetry/father). 

A few poems conjure the experiences of forebears who left ancestral homes for new shores, cultures and languages. The recently published volume, “Balancing: Poems of the Female Immigrant Experience in the Upper Midwest, 1830-1930” by Wisconsin author Kathleen Ernst (www.kathleenernst.com) expresses the trials faced by newly arrived women in a challenging environment. As Ernst demonstrates, poetry may sometimes be the clearest and best way to tell our genealogy stories.

Doris Green authored “Elsie’s Story: Chasing a Family Mystery” and “Wisconsin Underground: A Guide to Caves, Mines, and Tunnels.” Also available: “Minnesota Underground,” co-authored with Greg Brick. Visit http://henschelhausbooks.com.